The Pursuit of Passions performance that proves every barrier can be overcome
The piano is wheeled to the front of the hall at Bingeman’s Conference Centre in Kitchener. Phil Fiess, the pianist, stands unsteadily before more than 150 people; he’s eloquent, confident and poised, though he weaves from side to side before a walker with the unmistakable body language of a person living through the progressive throes of Parkinson’s disease.
This is the Pursuit of Passions event, which celebrates the wisdom and creativity of the residents who call a Schlegel Village home, and music is one of Phil’s many passions.
Offering his introduction to the duet he will perform with Tiffany VanSomeren, the recreation team member who fell in love with the song City of Stars as he did when they saw LaLa Land together in theatres months before, Phil explains that 50 years has passed since his fingers have graced the smooth keys of a piano.
The day after seeing the movie, he explains, he and Tiffany caught each other along Main Street in the Village at University Gates, and they couldn’t stop talking about the music. They were both in love with the song and it wasn’t long before they decided they would perform it at the next opportunity, though neither has ever considered themself a performer.
They had practiced for months under the guidance of music therapist Melissa Jessop and now, with the support of his walker, Phil shuffles to the piano. Tiffany, in a flowing patterned dress of many colours, takes her seat before him.
He begins to play.
At first, the notes are halting, but as his voice begins to sail through the room the timing of it all comes into synch. Despite the obvious tremors that must cause unimaginable frustration as Phil strikes each note upon the piano keys, the song flows smoothly. Tiffany’s voice blends with Phil’s for the first slow verses of the duet, and a few tears can be seen in the eyes of audience members. There is beauty in the raw honesty and fragility of the moment as these two performers lay themselves before the crowd, fully exposed, yet building in confidence with every passing note.
The slow part of the song comes to a close and the crowd waits with bated breath as the next faze begins. In the movie the song moves from slow to fast as the characters move into a perfectly choreographed dance before the pastel colours of Los Angeles spread throughout the hills below.
Phil has choreographed his own rendition. His walker is cast aside as the music plays from the speakers overhead, and slowly the dance takes shape. The audience claps in time as the pace quickens and before long, Phil is spinning and Tiffany is dipping; at one point, he swings her upon a green bench, her dress flowing as she floats a semi-circle above him, their hands clasped together tightly and their smiles growing ever brighter. People cheer and some are stunned by the miraculous way the signs of Parkinson’s have filtered away through the music and the movement.
These are just two friends nailing a performance down together, and the audience roars as the song comes to a close. The two friends embrace before taking several bows together hand in hand. Their smiles are limitless and between hugs, cheers and tears, they can barely get back to their seats.
Words that Phil had spoken in his introduction hang in the air: “perseverance;” “hard work;” “a study of relationship through song and dance.” Most certainly Phil has no idea of the inspiration he has offered: the finest example that shows limitation is merely a word that can be beaten by spirit, drive and determination.
The beauty of the relationship between Phil and Tiffany is perhaps what stands out most, far beyond the notes of a song strung together beyond the reaches of disease or the dance moves that melt away the physical manifestation of Parkinson’s.
Trust and genuine affection make such moments great, illustrating for those fortunate enough to witness the performance just what is possible when true connectedness brings two people together.
There really are no barriers that can’t be overcome in the pursuit of passion.
Learn more about the Wisdom of the Elder Signature Program